The Blog

Many years ago a friend was worried about a colleague. The colleague was a newlywed with a baby on the way, and a big mortgage he’d celebrated a promotion with. “The thing is,” my friend said, “if something goes wrong he’s in trouble.”

Something? Like what?

“Like if a carton of milk spoils,” she said.

Okay, granted. This was gossip. But as long as I wasn’t passing it along to other people, I thought it was okay to ponder, to learn from.

My friend was kidding about the lack of margin in this guy’s budget, but not by much. And her comment stuck with me. Over the years, watching so many other people spend a raise before the first check was deposited, I wondered why they celebrated more income with more expenses.

Wouldn’t more breathing room be a bigger treat?

Maybe you’ve heard stories of people who tease other people until they cry. This isn’t one of those.

Teasing’s also a method of getting an answer from someone who wasn’t planning on giving you one. You just…tease it out.

The other day I had a second appointment with someone I hope to be working with for a long time. She was an hour late. Her apology made it sound like I’d been waiting ten or fifteen minutes. This is not how I like to work. I didn’t tell her it made me wonder if we should be working together after all. I asked if it was the kind of thing that would likely happen again. That way I can plan for it, maybe bring other work to do in the lobby, whatever. I was gentle and careful.

Can you guess what happened? It was like hitting the jackpot on a slot machine. The woman told me what had gone wrong in such detail I couldn’t help but ache for her. Not only that, but she made me feel like the way I’d asked was a work of art.

As to why she hadn’t offered it to begin with? “I didn’t want to bash one client to another.”

Wow.

It reminded me all over again that having a good reason for wondering something doesn’t mean the other person doesn’t have a good reason for hesitating to share. Conversation is a delicate dance. It’s hard work and reason enough to give thanks for another day on the planet -- for the chance to get it right.

You might remember me telling you about my first book, Staying the Course, with former marathon champion Dick Beardsley. Can you imagine my surprise when I chatted -- on the talk show recently -- with one of the photographers who’d followed Dick, literally followed him, in those days?

When Katie studied abroad -- in Shanghai, China -- someone asked her about the woman she was waving to in the cafeteria. “Oh, that’s my mom’s friend,” Kate said. What were the odds my friend from Toastmasters in Fargo would be (1) an NYU alum, and (2) headed to Shanghai to work for NYU the same semester Kate was there?

When we got back to Manhattan from Europe we ran into one of Katie’s tennis camp counselors from Gustavus Adolphus College. Not once. Three different times. In one weekend! In Manhattan. What were the odds?

That’s one reason Darrell and Katie and I make it a point to be a joy to work with and to be around. It’s the right thing to do, sure. But who wants to risk being anything else? I’m not suggesting you sell your soul. And plenty of people are, as they say, “best loved from a distance.”

Otherwise? Say yes whenever possible and be a sweetheart unless it’s impossible. You never know when someone from the past will come bursting into your present.

What hurts?
September 28, 2017

Carolyn AckermanIt’s difficult to imagine someone being cruel to puppies. But when Carolyn Ackerman heard about a particularly gruesome incident, something snapped. She decided those puppies were not going to have died in vain. Now she donates fifty percent of everything she makes to animal welfare and rescue efforts.

When it was time to move back to Portland from Hawaii, Carolyn waited more than two years to give Alaska Air time to change its policy to allow her pet bunnies to fly in the cabin with her. When they did she bought a whole row of seats so each bunny could have its own.

How fiercely do you love what you love?

Some memories get dreamier as time goes by. Take our helicopter ride over Manhattan. What an exciting addition to the family scrapbook! It was so much fun.
 
Jane Sobel Klonsky wasn’t looking forward to being in a helicopter the way Darrell and Katie and I were. She’s afraid of heights, for one thing. And she was hanging out the window of one -- securely harnessed, but hanging -- so she could get pictures of the New York City Marathon from the air.

What kept her focused, so to speak? Her camera. Fear’s no match for it, she says.

I wondered if it was like the glass or plastic or whatever it is between you and a cab driver that -- according to Jerry Seinfeld -- makes a death-defying ride feel like you’re watching a movie.

“That’s exactly what it’s like,” Jane says.

What calms you down?

Have you left a mark?
September 26, 2017

Our family dermatologist is retiring. He’s the guy who took a laser to baby Katie’s forehead once upon, and thanks to him an otherwise distracting birthmark quickly faded into “Where Was That Thing Again?” Land. He’s the guy we’d ask about the sun damage on Darrell’s back, and he’s much of the reason you can barely see a scar from a long-ago car accident on my own forehead.

I’ll miss him a lot. There was something so reassuring about even his posture, which was perfect -- and was much of the reason he exuded a quiet confidence.

I’ll miss his seemingly infinite patience. His days were long, as was the wait to get on his schedule because he was a hit with more than just the Andersons. But he answered every question as if he had all the time in the world and you were the most important person in the world.

I didn’t know until the last time we saw him it would probably be the last time unless we, say, run into him in the grocery store. He could tell by my reaction I was heartbroken. It made me glad I’d written him so many thank-you notes over the years. He knows a little something about me, too. I appreciate someone while he’s in my life, not just in retrospect.

Who keeps you honest?
September 25, 2017

My friend Brooks Palmer is the kindest person I’ve ever spoken with. He helps me be kinder to myself. He’s my kindness coach.

When I’m trying to decide whether to keep something, I’ll ask myself how that object makes me feel -- the way Brooks taught me. If the answer’s “good” I don’t stop there. I’ll pretend Brooks is off to the side, looking at the expression on my face with a raised eyebrow.

“Fine,” I’ll almost always say, then. “I’ll let it go.”

If keeping something’s the right thing to do, after all,  you won’t need to ask. You’ll know.

That’s what friends are for, I suddenly realize. They help you remember what you already know.

Are you telling the truth?
September 20, 2017

the sun“Advice is what you ask for when you know the answer but wish you didn’t.”

Ever heard that?

It rings so true with me so constantly I find it hilarious. I’ve associated the need to poll people for their opinions with the need to pull my head out.

A friend, who happens to be a regular on the show, says hesitation is also illuminating. By way of proving that point he asked me during the show if I like hosting it. “I love it,” I gushed. I didn’t need to think about it.

The truth’s like that. Simple. No hesitation, no conditions.

Next question!